When You Hire The Right Managers, 'Engagement' Improves

Managers account for 70 percent of variance in engagement across business units, one study said. So, yes, they're a big factor in engagement.

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By Andre Lavoie


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Managers are often hired based on their previous success in non-managerial roles or their tenured status. Is this the best way to fill roles that require management and leadership skills?

Related: For True Employee Engagement, Follow These 6 Steps

Apparently not. In a March 2015 survey from Workplace Trends, almost half of the 1,000 HR professionals surveyed named leadership as the hardest skill to find, and only 36 percent listed leadership as a strength in their own organizations.

Concurrently, one of the biggest issues in workplaces today continues to be engagement. A July 2016 Gallup survey found that nearly 32 percent of the 1,500 employees surveyed said they felt engaged in their work, a mere 4 percent increase since a previous survey in December 2013.

Is there a connection here? Yes: Managers make a significant impact on engagement. In July 2016 Gallup reported on strength-based employee development, finding that managers accounted for 70 percent of variance in engagement across business units.

Clearly, then, companies should focus on how they select their managers, because they apparently tend to choose the wrong person 80 percent of the time, according to Gallup. But, what makes a good manager? Effective managers focus on their employees' strengths, and when they do that, engagement shoots up to 67 percent.

Here are some tips on how to hire and recruit the kinds of managers who can improve engagement:

1. Find the best talent sources.

As with all hiring efforts, employers need to know where to look for candidates. Sources of hire are important because they define the talent pool to select from.

Internal. Internal hires are often better cultural fits and cost less time and money to recruit and onboard. Offer growth opportunities to the best employees who have demonstrated strong management and leadership skills.

The 2014 Global Workforce Study by Towers Watson found career-advancement opportunities to be among the top driving forces for employees, according to the input of more than 32,000 respondents. The takeaway is to motivate the best players on your team and encourage them to pursue managerial positions.

As for "motivation," the best way to accomplish that is to first find the "A" players on your team by assessing which employees are interested in moving up. The 2015 Talent Mobility Research Report by Lee Hecht Harrison found that only 42 percent of companies surveyed believed that they understood their employees' unique skills and experience. And that's a problem because only when employers know who is best suited for management can they start the interviewing process.

Related: Is Better Employee Engagement the Solution to Hiring Woes?

To get to that point, seek help from your staff by starting an employee-referral program. Many companies have recognized employee referral programs as one of the best sources of hire. Train employees on how to make referrals, and create a rewards system that incentivizes people to participate.

External. Incorporate social media into your recruiting process. When organizations post job openings on social media, the candidate pool grows exponentially. It brings opportunities to followers, rather than making them search for any open positions. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are among the most popular outlets to use.

Boomerang employees are another, growing viable option. In a 2015 report from the Workplace Institute and Workplace Trends, over three-quarters of the 601 HR professionals surveyed and almost two-thirds of the 604 managers surveyed said they were more likely to take back an old employee than they had been in the past.

Maintain contact with A players who leave. When positions are available, catch up with them. Perhaps they have gained management experience and learned new skills that would be valuable in your company's management position.

2. Align candidates with goals.

How will each candidate contribute to the goal of improving engagement? Is he or she familiar with strength-based employee development?

Your strategy needs to include keeping your company's major goals at the forefront of your recruiting efforts. Train hiring managers on how to engage with qualified applicants and to inquire about their managerial style.

Job descriptions need to reflect one of the main goals of the new manager -- to increase employee engagement and create a work environment that focuses on strength building.

3. Test for candidates' skills.

Define what traits make up a manager at your company who improves engagement: Do this by focusing on employee strengths, and testing how candidates stack up to those expectations. Strength-based leadership encourages managers to use each employee's skill set in the best way. This means aligning team members with projects they will succeed in, instead of trying to assign them tasks out of their strength zone. In this way, companies will see a surge in engagement.

Managers who focus on employee strengths also build diverse, innovative teams that bring various different perspectives to the table. A transparent culture, where employees are comfortable with being open and sharing their opinions, is crucial to engagement, and it empowers them to take risks and grow on their own terms.

To advance your company to that goal, conduct behavioral interviews, encouraging managerial candidates to provide insights into how they would act in a management role. Ask how they would build a team for a seminar presentation, how they would react to decreasing productivity and what techniques they might use to ignite passion among their staffers. Look for answers that focus on strength-based leadership.

Related: 6 Keys to Employee Engagement During Times of Distraction

By creating a culture that stops trying to "fix" employees and instead helps them use their strengths to succeed and work passionately, employers can build a more engaged workplace. That starts with finding strong managers who understand this principle.

Andre Lavoie

Entrepreneur; CEO and Co-Founder, ClearCompany

Andre Lavoie is the CEO of ClearCompany, the talent-management solution that helps companies identify, hire and retain more A players. You can connect with him and the ClearCompany team on Facebook LinkedIn and Twitter.


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